What do you get if you combine eight incredible musicians, a bunting-filled house and a huge dose of historical inspiration? (And an amazing project team and a tour or two around Hatfield House?) I could be wrong – I was pretty delirious by the time I’d finished driving around photographing everything and absorbing all the gorgeous new music – but I’m pretty sure you’d get a little piece of magic entitled “The Elizabethan Session“, AKA these lovely folks:
Rachel Newton, Hannah James, John Smith, Emily Askew, Jim Moray, Martin Simpson, Bella Hardy and Nancy Kerr were given seven days to create some new pieces of music based around the Elizabethan era, and OH BOY did they. In a beautiful house in Herefordshire, a place adorned with a few miles of (incredible) bunting and some of the best owl mugs I’ve ever seen, these guys lived and worked together for the space of a week, drawing inspiration from all over this period of history. And Blackadder.
I was commissioned to capture three stages of the project: the song development / rehearsal in the first phase, the gig at Hatfield (plus the promo shot), and finally the recording of the album. I drove a silly number of miles and more than likely didn’t sleep enough courtesy of being giddily excited, but MY GOODNESS it was worth it. Incidentally, I’m going to apologise in advance for the sporadic bouts of capital letter fever that may incur throughout this post. “Enthusiastic” doesn’t even begin to cover it.
My work started on the last day of the musicians being in their lovely house in Herefordshire. After a week of frenetic and ridiculously prolific writing, this was the day of fine tuning and running through the concert set. I’ll not lie, I was totally blown away. I mean, I knew it was going to be good – that line up was always going to be good – but holy moly. In the space of about six days, they’d put together FOURTEEN new pieces of music. Whaaat?!!
Because it’s normally around this time that I get distracted by photographic nostalgia and stop being able to articulate anything, I’m just going to go right ahead and show you the snaps. For maximum effect, I suggest you go grab yourself a copy of the album or, for now, whack it on on Spotify and then go get yourself a proper copy. I promise it’s ever so pretty. Ready?
…I will be the first to admit that I may have gone the teensiest bit snap-happy at this point. It really was a genuine pleasure to sit in on this part of the creative process. (Enjoying the album so far? Yep? Thought so.)
The next day, after a rather long early morning drive across the country to the incredible Hatfield House, we started setting up the stage for the evening’s concert in the Old Palace. The Palace is known to be the childhood home of Elizabeth I and later where she convened her first Council of State. It’s also thought that it was under an old oak tree in the grounds of Hatfield House that Elizabeth learned of her ascension to the throne. Pretty magic place for a gig, right?
While soundman extraordinaire, Andy Bell, and his crew were setting up for soundcheck, I was charged with doing one of the fastest photoshoots ever. We’re talking the photographic equivalent of the amount of time a pint would last at a fresher’s fair. Unfortunately we had to wait to use the room we wanted, which meant that I had approximately 20 minutes to set up my lights and get everyone photographed as quickly as possible so they could dash back to the Old Palace and crack on with rehearsals for the evening’s performance… Whewww!
Thankfully the room looked awesome, everyone was a total pro in front of the camera and we bossed through the cover shoot. Stellar. (Ordered your copy of the album yet? I do rather recommend the vinyl…)
With that done, I had a few moments to curl up and listen as the musicians leapt straight back into rehearsing. There’s been a few times during the time that I’ve been doing this job that I’ve had to pinch myself to check that everything was, in fact, real – and this was very definitely one of them. The evening concert was beautiful and all involved in the project have a huge amount to be proud of. Judging by the reaction of the audience that night, they all agreed with me. Several times over.
And that was that! At least, for a couple of days. I popped home for a day and a bit before winding my way back down to sunny Hatfield to capture a few snaps of the album being recorded in the Old Palace by Andy Bell. What a place to record music!
Huge congratulations to Adam and Caroline Slough, Neil Pearson and everyone at EFDSS, Andy and James, and of course to all of the musicians on the creation of such a genuinely inspiring piece of work. It was an absolute privilege to capture and I can’t quite believe it all happened nearly a year ago!
If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog and fancy finding out a bit more about the project, head on over to the Folk By The Oak website. While you’re over there, do check out the festival! I had an absolute blast photographing it last year and can heartily recommend you take a look at this gorgeous one day extravaganza. They have fireworks and everything.
Until next time,